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A Lovely Lesson from Pianist Lang Lang

It’s back to school time, and for some, back to music lessons. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, music education is a particular passion of international superstar, pianist Lang Lang. This year he's expanding his efforts to get music into Philadelphia schools. 

In 2008, he put his passion into action, and founded the Lang Lang International Music Foundation.

It was the "Cat Concerto" episode of a Tom and Jerry cartoon that enticed Lang Lang to the piano at age three. By the time he was 13, he was playing masterworks of the repertoire, winning competitions in Beijing, Germany, and Japan. At 14, he arrived at the Curtis Institute of Music, and made Philadelphia his home.

“I lived here for such a long time, studying and growing up here. I really feel like I’m a Philly cheesesteak kind of guy,” he says, laughing. 

Lang Lang talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about his love of Philadelphia and his passion for music education.

He is upbeat and seems totally relaxed—you wouldn’t know he’d just played Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 before a packed house in Verizon Hall at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. With a roomful of people in his own dressing room, we’ve moved to an empty room next door to chat.

We talk about his childhood driven by music, and how hard he’s worked.  He says the joy comes from the music itself. “When I play music I get transformed, that’s why I think making music is so important, that’s why music education is so important.”

In 2008, he put his passion into action, and founded the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. The foundation partners with schools and other organizations with a variety of programs to introduce children to music.

“Music” he says, “unites people, heals our heart, and brings our creativity to another level.” 

Success in music involves a lot of practicing, but Lang Lang believes there’s another important lesson young music students must learn: “To have the confidence to express themselves. And to express the moment–not just play the note–but feel the note, and make every piece like a new best friend.”

Each school chosen receives pianos for a "piano lab," the Lang Lang Piano Method curriculum, books and supplies, and an annual financial grant.  

Last year, the Lang Lang International Music Foundation began partnering with three Philadelphia schools: Fox Chase, Southwark, and Edward T. Steel. This year the Foundation has added Thomas Holme Elementary, Munoz-Marin, and Francis Scott Key Schools to its program.      

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.